Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big Ed

Ed Delahanty quickly moved from his first team, the Cleveland Shamrocks, up to a state league and then tri-state league, and soon he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. After a weaker year or two,  his batting average climbed above .400, where it stayed for three years running. He hit like crazy and hustled and played strong defense, and soon was one of the sport's most in-demand players, dominating throughout the 1890s, both offensively and defensively.  Ed soon parlayed his prominence into a big payday when he signed with the Washington Senators, a team in the new American league.

And then matters began to complicated for poor Delahanty. He signed a lucrative contract with a large signing bonus with the National League New York Giants, though it conflicted with the contract he signed with the Senators. In a rare accord,  the National and the American leagues agreed to honor each other's contracts, and Ed was stuck in Washington with a bum ankle and a bad back, begging team management to reimburse the Giants for the bonus he'd blown on drinking, gambling and carousing. His behavior grew increasingly unpredictable; he was rumored to have flirted with suicide.

And then, on July 2, 1903, Ed Delahanty abandoned his team and his belongings in Detroit and, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, boarded a train for New York. A scourge on board, Delahanty harassed other passengers, doused himself in drink, broke glass and barreled around the train's narrow passageways, drunk and at times disoriented. Finally the conductor kicked him off the train. The story gets murky after that, but by all accounts he had some sort of scuffle with a night watchman on the International Railway bridge that connects Canada to New York, which ended with Ed plummeting or jumping into the Niagara River, far below. The river swept his body into the Falls. He didn't survive. At the time of his death, he was probably the most famous player in baseball.

But before all that, Delahanty hit 101 home runs, a feat almost unheard of in the deadball era,  and it was not usual for him to produce a hit in every plate appearance during a game. On May 11, 1903, less than two months before Delahanty's untimely death, The Baltimore Sun ran an article under the headline "Queer Baseball Yarns," in which a reporter reminisced about a hot streak he had one fine afternoon in 1897, when he was still playing for the Phillies.

The Phillies were playing Chicago at West Side grounds. In his first at bat,  Ed Delahanty knocked a home run over the left field bleachers, and then, the next time he was up,  knocked another over the right field stands.

In his next at bat he produced a third home run, this one right to center. He "cantered clear around to home without trouble," according to the Sun. The crowd hollered and cheered.

Sure enough, he hit the ball, hard, and it soared into left, ricocheted off the clubhouse roof, and disappeared for an astounding fourth home run.

More than five years after the fact, The Sun declared this five-for-five streak as "the most remarkable thing that ever happened on a ball field, by common consent."


  1. p.s. you might notice that the spellings of names can get very confused on here at times. In both the photo and The Sun headline, Delahanty's last name is spelled "Delehanty," but that's not the now-accepted spelling. Same thing with Hughie/Hughey Jennings, Jimmie/Jimmy Collins, many, many others. Sometimes this may be due to the fact that I'm often posting late and night and am tired, but not so in these cases. I can only conclude that the precision with which names were spelled in the past was far less rigorous than it is today, a suspicion which is anecdotally confirmed by the fact that my grandmother never spelled her middle name (Katherine/Catherine/Catharine/Ketherine/etc) the same way twice.

  2. Current Philadelphia Phillies prospect Domonic Brown had been in pro ball for three solid years before he let his team and members of the media know his first name is spelled with two o's, not two i's.

    He has yet to enjoy a four-homer, five-for-five day.

  3. Depending I suppose on which Jimmy Collins you're talking about, his name was probably James Collins. I find it kind of beautiful that you get different spellings of things like that depending on where you might be in the country and where you are from.

    Of course it probably lies less in the beauty of language, and more in the fact that some team media guideish release had his name one way and then years later it was corrected. By then though writers were already set in their ways, or never thought to need to fact check the spelling of a last name. Why would it ever change?

    Enjoy the random baseball blog!